Tag Archives: Education

Why ParentCamp?

IMG_4979Having just wrapped up the first ParentCamp USA hosted at the U.S. Department of Ed in Washington DC, I feel like there are half a dozen takeaway blog posts I could write. But there is one topic I feel more passionate about than any other, and that is….Why ParentCamp? Why do I care so much about an event that I am willing to donate countless hours of my limited time (as does every other ParentCamp organizer)? So, here we go…

I wish I could somehow capture the energy and excitement that happens in a ParentCamp smackdown (the last session where everyone comes together to share one thing they took away from the day). Having attended many Edcamps, I can tell you the energy is triple that of an Edcamp smackdown. Why is that?

I think there could be a few reasons, but believe the biggest one is that parents (families) are not typically part of edu-conversations. They may be given information by their schools, they may talk to each other about education, but seldom are they truly part of the conversations where they are not only free to express concerns and ask questions, but also contribute ideas and to the solutions.

ParentCamp like Edcamp is nothing formal (which is a huge appeal, because it’s hard to be real in a formal setting, and if we aren’t real, then we likely aren’t digging into the real issues.). It is not a bunch of presentations. It may even be more about the relationship building than informing. ParentCamp is a group of people coming together (often community – but in this case, it was our entire country) because they all care about the same thing…supporting our children and their education.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to educate them. To best do that we need to first recognize titles are irrelevant (I’d also add, to some extent, so is the level of your education). EVERYONE has something valuable to contribute to the conversation. Each one of us has a unique lens and perspective that others cannot speak from. Each one of us has triumphed over an obstacle in a way that someone else has not. For that, each one of us can offer something to the conversation that will help our kids reach for dreams they never knew existed. It is difficult to get people to attend and participate in something (without being bribed with a prize) if they feel inferior, so…goodbye titles!

So how do we engage families and the community in education? Should topics offered at ParentCamp focus on relationship building? I can tell you that is what I assume many thought ParentCamp was about at first, because we had more discussions submitted on relationship building than anything else for ParentCamp USA. So this may sound a tad crazy, but no. We should not have so many sessions built specifically on how to engage with families. I’m not saying to have none, but in all reality, that’s not where parents struggle (we often struggle with getting the real information, not with speaking to our child’s teacher), and it really isn’t what is going to entice the average parent to take a few hours out of their weekend to attend. If we want to engage families. If we want to entice them to come and share and learn with our teachers, we need to give them information that they can use. We need to give them information that is relevant to them and their family, today. We need to start conversations that talk about what education looks like today (both the struggles and crazy amazing things) – because it likely looks little like what they experienced when they were in school. We need to come together to share ideas on how to make it easier to be a parent. The world changes so fast, and we all have so little time to do the research/reading to stay up on how to use social media…or what it is, or what is STEM and why we should care. Parents don’t need another 2 free hours each day to be a partner in their child’s education, they simply need to tweak what/how they do things already.

Here’s the other piece…I always love when you go to a Back-to-School Night, read the welcome newsletter, meet with the teacher, and they all stress how important it is for us to “support our child’s education/learning at home.” How many families know what the heck that means, or how to go about it? I remember when my oldest first started school. Based on what the teacher and school shared with/told me, the way I was to support my child and his education was to read the newsletters, show up at events, contribute to the fundraisers, volunteer my time, make sure he did his homework, and sign off on a piece of paper that we read 15 minutes a day. I’m sorry – but THIS drives me insane! This is being his cheerleader. It does little to ensure he is getting the most out of his education. It sets me up to only play an active role after the fact, when something has gone wrong. To be reactive versus proactive.

To support learning parents need to know what that means, and how to best do that. We need to know about what and how our children are learning. We need to know about the tools they are using, and a general idea of how they are using them. We need to ask questions, but in order to do so, we need to have some basic knowledge first.

Going back to discussions offered at a ParentCamp…we need to not only offer feel-good sessions, but also sessions that provide concrete information and resources families can use/turn to tomorrow. By default, we will build a working relationship between home and school when we can all hold a conversation about helping our kids read for passion, navigate the mind-boggling IEP process, or use the technology that our kids are using in AND out of school.

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Remember, the average parent has just a few hours to give each year to be physically at the school. They’re going to be selective when choosing those moments, and right or wrong, they’re almost always going to choose moments that are about and for their child…not ones to help make the school prettier, or community better. One could argue though that if they are helping their child be a valuable member of their community, they are in turn helping make the community better too.

At the end of ParentCamp USA, those of us who planned the event sat down to quickly debrief the experience. The question came up about what we are doing to help prepare educators on how to engage with families. A valid question, and something our schools needs to be better at. A question that I personally believe we make far too complicated (a conversation for a separate post). But a question that is not to be addressed at ParentCamp.

What makes ParentCamp so wonderful and exciting is that it’s unique in that it is about the parent piece in this puzzle. It is about helping engage parents through inviting them into these conversations they’ve seldom been a part of, and how they can better support their child’s education because they now are beginning to understand what the heck that means, and how they can do it without trying to find more time in their day. If we want to talk about helping educators become better at what they do, we have Edcamps. (Side note: although educator focused, I highly encourage parents to attend and participate in an Edcamp. The participants are extremely welcoming and you can learn SO much. Most things being done or used in a classroom, can also be done and/or used at home. And the bonus? If you see something great, you can bring it back, and serve as an advocate for these great practices to be applied to your own child’s classroom, school and/or district.)

So…Why ParentCamp?

  • It builds and strengthens relationships and community
  • It provides a forum and starts crucial conversations
  • It provides us with information and ideas
  • It opens our eyes to new perspectives…and helps us see we all want the same thing for our kids
  • It proves even difficult conversations can prove to be productive and positive when we toss titles, put kids at the center, and approach the issue with a “we” mindset
  • It proves that families and educators can come together to talk about more than class parties and grades

AND

  • For those inviting kids to lead, it proves how incredibly bright and talented our children are, and what we are missing out on by not inviting them into these crucial conversations (Student, Ben Cooper stole the show with his discussion about technology used to support students with dyslexia/learning disabilities at ParentCamp USA). Parents & educators, take that as a compliment as to what an amazing job you are all doing.

To learn more about hosting your own amazing ParentCamp…go to www.parentcamp.org

To catch a glimpse of the inspiring day, conversations had, and energy at ParentCamp USA, check out #parentcampusa, the Twitter account @parentcamp and the Facebook group “parentcamp”.

A huge thank you to the U.S. Department of Ed for opening their doors to host a ParentCamp in our nation’s capital, and to all those who participated and made it such a phenomenal day and event. 

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WPED – Encouraging a Passion for Life-Long Reading with JoEllen McCarthy

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We had the pleasure of speaking with JoEllen McCarthy (@JoEllenMcCarthy) about encouraging a passion for reading on our latest WPED program. Aside from the plethora of information that JoEllen has at her fingertips, she has a magical way of delivering it with enthusiasm and fun! If you haven’t had the opportunity to see her present, do yourself a favor and mark your calendar for any upcoming events. Her website with dates, blog posts, and many links to the resources she shares can be found here:

http://www.alwayslearningll.com/

 

Check out our latest program where we discuss encouraging a passion for reading for all students. We talk about the importance of a learning community that incorporates teachers, students, and parents. Also discussed is the transition from elementary to middle school and the needs students have as they grow. Resources are shared throughout the discussion – making this a fun-packed, information rich program!

http://www.bamradionetwork.com/creating-positive-school-culture/3125-encouraging-a-passion-life-long-for-reading-in-young-children

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Twitter for Parents in the Eduworld?

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Image Credit : http://www.sxc.hu/

The Journey to Finding Your Voice and Place on Twitter

When I first began my Twitter journey, I was consumed by all the information available. I drank everything in; constantly re-tweeting posts so I could have a record of articles I wanted to read, jumping on every chat that showed up in my feed, and reaching out to authors and other individuals that I had respected from afar. The experience was exhausting, but so worth the late night info binges!

After much time, I feel that I have finally found my Twitter voice. As a parent interested in education, it has been a windy road. Finding a chat that genuinely wants, not just welcomes  a parent’s lens is not a given. There are certainly educators who are not interested in conversing with non-educators.  I may have also brought my baggage with me. I spent just as much time looking up terms in the beginning as I did sharing my thoughts. Cutting through the edu-jargon and acronyms took time.

One thing I had to remind myself as I got more into the Twitter world, which is easy to forget, is that there are people behind those posts. Some are nice, some not so nice.  Some with valuable information to share, some….. And some individuals have agendas that don’t include me or other parents. Twitter is a reflection of the workplace for educators. Some strongly hold on to hierarchies, even antiquated ones. Some really want to change those paradigms and reshape education as a true partnership with not only parents but students as equal players.

All those hours sifting through chats, hastags, and follows, I have found people that really challenge my mind, respect my input, and encourage more interactions. I have found educators who respect parents making the effort to learn more about education. I have found chats that appreciate and seek parent points of view. I am always appreciative of educators who are evolving and refining their perspectives. Those are the people I want to learn with. Those are the people who inspire me to push myself to reach for more.

One of my goals as a Parent Leader has always been giving parents a voice; enabling them to have a seat at the table. Twitter has been an instrumental tool in allowing me to contribute in conversations with teachers and administrators. In order to successfully find your way, you have to hit a few bumps and then pick yourself up and carry on. The journey is part of the prize.

Some of my favorite chats include:

#PTChat, #NYEDchat, #COLChat, #ArkEdChat, #TMSHawkChat, #FinnedChat

This post is dedicated to some truly special educators:

@TonySinanis, @DaisyDyerDuerr, @thomascmurray, @JohnFrtisky, @donald_gately, @timdwalk, @DavidHochheiser

Thank you!


Takeaways From The National Title I Conference

There is much I could write about from my experience this week at the National Title I conference. Before I possibly share what I learned from various sessions….I want to share the experience. I was invited to present with the National Center for Families Learning on Wonder and Inquiry Motivate At-Risk Students and Families. My role? To share a parents perspective. While there; I thought it only made sense to take in as much of the conference as possible. What kind of sessions did I participate in? Everything from Designing a School-Family Compact, to Literacy Instruction Through the Use of Mobile Technologies, to a session called Moving Targets, where a school shared their story of moving from a last place ranking by their state up to around the top 25%…in one year.

First takeaway…ENERGY. If we want children to be excited about learning…the adults need to also exhibit excitement. The teachers and principals that I saw sharing their success stories were not just teaching their students – but I’m also sharing their excitement for learning.

By far, one of the greatest ways to kick off the sessions…Jeff Charbonneau, a teacher from Washington who was selected last year as the National Teacher of the Year, was Sunday’s keynote speaker. The title of his presentation…Welcome to Another Day in Paradise! (The title alone tells you his outlook) I think it’s hard to capture what makes a school or individual so great in one hour – but Jeff did a excellent job of sharing all the reasons one can celebrate being a teacher. The impact a teacher can make. His energy was infectious. (I would love to hear his students share their thoughts on him one time.)

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Before Jeff Charbonneau took the stage, the conference was kicked off with each of the schools recognized as a Title I Distinguished School stepping up on the stage and sharing with the thousands in the room what made their school special or what their motto was. These schools brought such energy, enthusiasm and pride, as they had every reason to be.

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The session I mentioned earlier, Moving Targets, how did they turn themselves around? Starting the day excited about the opportunity to make a difference, taking a honest look at themselves, stopped making excuses and doing whatever they needed to do to provide their students (or as the principal called them “her babies”) the education they deserved.

Second….as someone mentioned to me this week, “Technology, they’re all using it.” Smartphones and tablets have given many access to the internet and social media; regardless of their economic status. So not only should sessions be talking about tools to use in a classroom between teacher and student – but there should also be discussion of how these tools can be used to take the learning home; outside of the school walls and in connecting families with the learning.

If we want students and families to use technology and social media to enhance learning, I think it is also important for the schools to role model how to use it. I have been spoiled in that any education conferences I’ve have attended in the past are filled with educators using social media to share what they were learning throughout various sessions. Not only is it wonderful for those not in attendance (and that would include families following you/school account) – but for those wanting to be part of multiple sessions simultaneously. I’m not sure if it was the extremely limited wi-fi access at the venue, or if many of those in attendance simply don’t use social media. But sharing was almost non-existent (I pulled anything I could find from Twitter relating to this conference, and there were only a few of us tweeting out of around 3000 in attendance). The @natltitleIconf last tweet…note the date – Oct 23!

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I don’t care how information is shared…but I do think they are missing something big by not sharing. The schools and people that fill them, that were in attendance are doing great things…what they are doing should be put out there as much as possible, so other schools with similar struggles can learn from them. Plus, there were many phenomenal sessions there that I think provided great information that families could use in supporting their student and schools. What a thrill it would have been for a parent at home to follow along with a session such as “Multiplying Vocabulary Using Manipulatives”? It doesn’t sound like a party…but for a parent unsure how to help their child who may be struggling; these tips could make a difference.

Third…engaging families IN the process is a work in progress. This conference had more parents in attendance than most other educational conferences (meaning individuals not also considered educators), because of that and the fact that part of Title I encompasses family engagement, I expected far more sessions to share how to include families in these efforts, discussions, processes. The ones that did include them, did it well.

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But other sessions limited discussion to the admin and teacher. A few mentioned families as an, “oh, and be sure to have your families review this – or make sure to share a copy with your families,” but if you are doing what’s best for the students and you really want a full partnership between home and school…then you need to include families earlier on…not at the end as a “by the way, here is what we are doing.” Maybe this isn’t so much about tailoring the sessions as having voices in the sessions willing to share their ideas on how to incorporate the parents in the process. Either way, I think that this is an opportune time to provide tips to educators on best practices for engaging families during the processes and discussions….to help them build real home-school partnerships.

Below is a tweet that I shared with two of our teachers not in attendance, but then I also shared them with a few parents I thought would appreciate using them from home.

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As always, I think anytime a parent has the chance to learn from and attend a educational conference, they should. There is so much to take away from these conferences. They not only help to educate and inform on various topics – but you can add a much needed balance to discussions and meet lots of amazing educators doing amazing things with students each and every school day (which for me brings a sense of respect for what my children’s teachers endure each day while still serving as an inspiration). For those not able to pay the larger fees of conferences such as the National Title I conference, I encourage you to seek out a local EdCamp (which are free and full of amazing educators to learn from and with). 


New Look to PTO Agenda Includes Students and Community

student center - nisce org

This last year, Twitter chats and #ParentCamp have been beyond inspirational to me. I truly love the constant, 2-way discussions between parents, educators and students. I cannot get enough of the global learning and collaborating. I really wanted to see our school and home & school association (PTO) take those two things and turn our meetings into mini chats/sessions. Having dialogue between school and families in ways such as chats and #ParentCamp can do nothing but benefit every school community.

During last week’s #PTchat we discussed student-centered parent group meetings. To me, this is the change all groups need to make. Making the students the center of all discussions has helped improve our meetings. The change aided in the issue of attendance, and also improved the quality of discussion between those attending. During the chat, I shared the agenda we planned out for our home and school meeting’s new look/layout. I shared more about the planning and pieces of it in my post here….but as excited as I was about the schedule we were building for the new year, it wasn’t at a point where I felt comfortable sharing. It is now pretty well set, and we’re ready to share. This is our first year doing something like this – so yes, there is plenty of room to grow.

To start, I set the spreadsheet up in Google Docs to simplify the ability to collaborate. If someone had an idea, they could add it on their own, for all others to see immediately. Each month has a theme that relates to what we have coming up at our school/effecting our families. The components try to compliment that theme, or address an additional upcoming event/concern. Given that we built this during summer break – a few of the student voice segments are still unfilled. As the school year gets up and running and classes and clubs start forming, planning and learning, we will fill the remaining openings. As far as the “Edu Voice” piece…this is our opportunity to really bring in the community. Yes, many of those months may be filled with our own teachers, but I hope to also use this to highlight the many professionals in our community near and far who can offer insight on a given topic.

To give you a clearer picture, I am sharing the full agenda/schedule, but it is only the outline which I believe can be carried over from school to school. Every school will have their own unique events and issues that are important to their families. It is those things that will be the focus of their meeting.

Knapp Elem Home & School Association 2013-14 Meeting Agenda

2013-14 Knapp H&S Meeting Agenda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are volunteering because of the kids. We are here to make today better than yesterday for them. To do so we need to make sure all voices are represented and we are a go to resource for information.

image credit: nisce.org


What I Want From My Child’s School…

It s that time of year and there’s lots of talk about what families want from their schools and teachers. For a hot moment here and there I get caught up in convos and then I realize, as a parent, I need nothing fancy or trendy. I asked a few friends (from various schools), thinking maybe I was not of the norm…and they all responded with almost the same kind of answers (some of which I’ve inserted throughout).

First and foremost, I want my child to be safe. I want to know that the people caring for my children the 6 hours or so when they are not with me, are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure they come home that afternoon. We live in a different world than the one I grew up in, it’s more than a crossing guard at the street corner and periodic fire drills.

I want the best educational experience possible for my child. “For my child,” because each child is unique and what is best for little Joey three seats over isn’t always what’s best for my child. This means you need to get to know them. You need to know what makes him/her tick; when you can push them to do more and when they are overwhelmed.

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I say “ experience” because I want more than good grades on tests. I want them to experience learning in ways that I might not think of as a parent or have the means to teach at home. I want them to see your passion in learning and want to mimic it. Yes, I expect them to know that 2×2=4; why that is, other ways to get the same results, and how to get the answer when someone isn’t there to help them. But education is more than test grades. They’re in a room/building full of people their own age who very well may come from a place unlike what they know at home. That might mean a different religious belief/culture, how they get down the hallway, or that family doesn’t always equal a mom, a dad, a brother, sister and dog. These things should be celebrated and shared. One thing I love about my children’s school more than the one I attended is the diversity. For me growing up, we had to read, watch a movie, or travel to learn about others different from us. My children have the ability to learn about them from their friends, classmates and neighbors. If our schools have that, we should use that to our advantage. Let the kids and their families share their first-hand knowledge with others. What better way to expand their mind and make them more empathetic to others as they go through life; teaching them that the world is bigger than them.

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Communicate with me…not just at. I like using technology to communicate; it is my preference since it makes it easier for me when on the go – but it isn’t required. A simple hand-written note or phone call works just as well. But if my job is to make sure my children head into school prepared and then support your efforts from home; I need to know what and when something is happening. (Yes we need to teach our kids to be responsible for themselves – but younger ones don’t always remember, and I don’t enjoy having to run items to the school last minute nor do I enjoy seeing my child in tears because they missed a spirit day or did poorly on a test because didn’t feel comfortable asking for help in class). I enjoy knowing what they are learning and what is expected of them. Not to be the helicopter parent who doesn’t trust you are doing your best – but because there are many opportunities for us to build on these lessons at home; providing them with a deeper understanding. Ultimately – I want to have a line of communication in place from the start of the year so that we all are being proactive and not reactive. I’m a much happier mom when I know an issue seems to be arising (be it with learning or social), then when I am learning about the issue too late (i.e. report card has been issued or my child is sitting in the principal’s office).

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Along the same lines – I want to be Informed. This may be my oldest child or first time experiencing this issue and I am learning some things as I go. If you know of tools, resources or upcoming events…please share them. I don’t take insult that I am a bad parent and need to be told or taught. I know I am a good parent – but I don’t necessarily know how to help my child struggle with a learning issue that I never had myself or how to apply for financial aid to minimize the amount of money we are spending out of pocket for them to attend college. Just as I turn to my dentist to provide me with the best treatment options out there today for my teeth, I turn to the school to provide me with the resources or answers out there to help me provide the best education possible for my children.

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Respect. Just as you want my child and I to respect you and your position; I want you to respect my child and me as equal partners in their education. You may have the degree in education – but we all bring something valuable to the conversation.

In making these requests, in return I promise to support your efforts from home. To respect and trust you with my child. Ultimately…do the same from home that I am asking to be done at school.


Fostering Home and School Partnerships Through Education

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“Visible learning, in all forms, helps a school truly become a community. It takes a village…” Stacey Wallwin commented on our discussion on Twitter about engaging parents. I couldn’t agree more. If we want to aid in building long-standing, strong partnerships between home and school, we need to be a source of information.

In speaking with our group of over 40 class captains and many other parents, the common “favorite moment” among all of them, were the times when they left the school with knowing something new to help them as a parent. Our parent-teacher book chat, our staff voice piece about RtII (What is it? How is the data used? What does that mean for my child?), and #ParentCamp all received numerous raving comments. This year we are trying something new for our monthly parent meetings. Well, not entirely new…more like expanding on what we were doing last year. We are using our monthly meetings to continue to share out as much information and resources with families and the community as possible. It is more than a wish to build the number of participants at our monthly meetings – it’s about empowering families so they can be part of the foundation that our great community is built on.

So last week, at our first board “gathering” (meeting sounds to heavy for summer), I made a suggestion; that we scrap our current agenda outline and build a meeting that parents would want to attend; packing it full of opportunities to learn about the school, students, community and how to support learning in all of those hours when our children are not in school, yet with the little free time we all seem to have.  We will then plan out the year in advance and post the schedule for families to plan in advance to attend the meetings most relevant and appealing to them. So what are we looking to include?

Tech Training (30 min prior to start of the meeting): a chance for parents to get a quick lesson in technology. The first one on how to join our meetings (or anything else) virtually. That means they have a choice over the following 8 months on how they wish to join us…physically or virtually. Others we are looking to include are social media use, tools/sites helpful for students as study tools or to complete HW or research; Study Island & Edmodo (both used by students at school and from home); edu-sites and apps.

Parenting: This will be a piece that we will share an article, chapter or short video in advance of the meeting (something that parents can read or watch in less than 15 min) and then participate in a mini discussion or Q&A during the meeting.

Edu-Voice: In the past we were always turning to the teachers to inform us parents. Although the teachers are still an important resource for us to learn from, this year we are looking to expand it to anyone in our community that can share their expertise on a topic relating to our children. With tools such as Skype or Google hangout – we are able to learn from those across the hall or across the world.

There are some things we are not looking to change…

Student Voice: A piece from last year that we believe in keeping. Us parents loved hearing about the good things happening at our school, the students (for the most part) liked having the spotlight for a few moments, and it brought in a few new faces each month.

1 hour time limit: This is key! Families are busy and no matter how much they want to know what is going on at the school…they don’t have the time to spend hours at a school meeting. To accomplish this, it requires clock watchers who aren’t afraid to say, “move on.” I hope that the number of families using our Facebook page and on Twitter continues to grow and the discussions can continue not only when we are together in the same room – but also online while we are waiting for our children to finish their extra curricular activity or sitting in the pediatrician’s waiting room.

Business as Usual: We want to keep all families in the loop and participating with the home & school association. They need to know what is upcoming and in the plans so they. To save on time, and because we have already shared it online and in the newsletter, we will eliminate the re-hashing of news that has happened since the last meeting.

Live streaming: It is the most successful tool we’ve used to reach and include more parents and staff than any other. We’d be crazy to abandon it.

I see our group’s role in the school and community much like the role of those I turned to as a new parent. When we had our first child, we read endlessly, talked to everyone from the doctors to our family and friends, and then in the end, pulled the pieces of advice from each, that best suited our child and family, to form our own parenting style. Here, we are one of the pieces to help each student achieve their potential.

Image credit: sxc.hu


Using the School Lobby to Engage Parents

Paulus Cheung

Last night I was finalizing my agenda for the first meeting with our 2013-14 home & school team (PTO as some of you may refer to it). This is the second year serving for most of us and the vision hasn’t changed much. We want to continue finding ways to engage more parents in the world of learning at our school. Last year we focused on building connections with parents and between families and the school with face to face interactions and expanding on our use of technology. But what this year? How do we increase participants and the level at which they’re involved? We could continue to do the same thing…but I, personally, would get bored. Who wants to hear people say the same thing over and over? I don’t even like saying the same thing twice. Last year the idea of a parent resource center/room was thrown out there, but some didn’t feel parents needed a “room” (not that there was a room open…just in discussion). Parents might not need a room, but they do need the resources that would be found in that room.

Thinking about why and where parents interact with schools

The why is simple, because of their children. At our school, I think we started to touch on that last year. We began incorporating the children in everything we did, not just in events. That included our monthly meetings (which each month we gave one club 15 minutes to share their learning or accomplishments) and in our monthly newsletter (where we filled 75% of the pages with student work). The where? Many places, but the one parents visit most often in the course of a year, is the lobby. As a new family, it is the first place you go…and it is the one location you will return to time and time again throughout your child’s school years. Why not use it for more than a waiting room?

So often parents are asked to come to the school…and then sit idle off to the side; doing (and sometimes learning) nothing new. If we want parents to take a proactive role and be engaged, we should encourage them to touch, explore and learn anytime they are there. In thinking how our group can encourage this, I began to think about what engages my children in learning? What are the characteristics of places such as museums that attract us to learning and exploring….not just once, but to return for more? Which of those traits could be used in a school setting to engage parents? (Keeping in mind we don’t have the same budget a museum has.)

A warm welcome, both with signage and people. (This part is a given…but feel if I leave it out, it would be odd.) For schools such as ours with multiple languages spoken, sign(s) with welcome in various languages greeting you when you walk in. As far as the people…I’m not a fan of enclosing the office staff, but I also understand the need/wish for security. For me, I’m OK with the walls and windows as long as the staff is friendly, attentive and accessible to all families.

Interactive and hands-on. (This is the part I think we are missing) Museums encourage learning not through lots of comfy chairs/sofas and papers, but through bold statements of color and structure and interactive stations, clearly designated for a particular task. The “tools” are not neatly put away – but out and ready for use or viewing.

What could we add to our school lobbies?

  • Student work: not just art work on display but samples of writing, projects/experiments and use of technology. Hearing about it or seeing pictures is nice – but sometimes nothing beats the real thing.
  • TV Monitor: showing photos of the students in action learning, struggling, having fun and being good citizens; live stream of assemblies or class activities; scrolling news bits pertinent to that week.
  • Computer stations: Clearly marked and pages/tabs set up for specific tasks to eliminate the non-tech savvy individuals fear of navigating and saving time for those only there for a few minutes (since there isn’t necessarily someone there to walk them through).
    • School specific
      • Main Website
      • Library
      • Cafeteria
      • Blogs/Social Media
      • Access to online forms
    • Education
      • Websites
      • Apps
      • Curriculum guides
      • Tutorials on using various technology
      • And maybe one with a slide show/running video of student tech related projects
    • Community
      • Pages set up for the local library, social services, tutoring, places offering scholarships, sports, parks, and museums, (not for profit places)
  • Hard copy Resource Center: items families can take with them to read/do at home. This shouldn’t be tucked in a corner – but in a visible and easily accessible location.
  • Books: Well not just books, but all kinds of reading material. Newspapers and various local cultural publications. Again, tucked away on a book shelf doesn’t invite one to pick it up and read/browse. These need to be on display and at their fingertips, asking to be picked up, paged through and read.

Give parents a warm welcome, open door and opportunities to expand their knowledge to better help their children succeed and I think they will participate any available chance. The above tools can spark conversations not only between parent and child, but also between parents and between parents and the school; propelling new ideas. The school should be a learning center for not only children – but everyone in the community.

lobby computer stationsResources &  Displaystudent work


Wishes For Our PTO Next Year

dandelion wish

As this school year comes to an end, and we welcome our new parent association board members I am beginning to think about thoughts on the upcoming year I’d like to share with our new team. A year ago, I was taking on this position with zero board experience; joined by parents much in the same position as I. I simply asked that everyone give 100% to everything they do, connect with as many families as possible…and that we will try new things and know that we aren’t going to get it all right. In the end I hoped that would translate into more participation in various ways.

This past year we raised more money than expected, increased our number of families participating, introduced (with the school) several ways for families to stay in touch with and follow the learning at school through technology, and hosted the first #ParentCamp. I couldn’t be happier, but I also believe we can always do more. So…

Next year, half of our board will remain, and I will challenge them…to do more (while keeping in mind that most work full time), make a greater impact and demonstrate that PTO’s are so much more than fundraisers. Some hopes I’ll share at our first gathering before heading into the summer…

  • Continue to build on diversity in our group. We have a more diverse group this coming year coming year than last – but we are still missing several voices. We need to reflect our school community to guarantee each neighborhood and classroom has a voice in decisions made. To do that we need to continue reaching out to all families and learning more about how they want to be involved, and inviting them to share their voice.
  • Visit, learn about, and/or get to know another school or PTO. One of my highlights from this year was connecting with and seeing how other schools and PTO’s do things.
  • Inspired by Joyce Epstein’s 6 Types of Involvement, how can we improve on or provide opportunities for each of these?
    •  Parenting: Be it basics such as food bank info or sharing resources on how to provide better emotional support.
    • Communicating: Are we communicating basic information to families of all languages? How can we make it easier for families to connect with the PTO and school?
    • Volunteering: Are we providing opportunities for dads, grandparents and community members to volunteer?
    • Learning at Home: What resources can we share with families to support learning at home?
    • Decision Making: What are ways our families can have a voice in decisions made involving how our children are educated or are involved in school outside of the class?
    • Collaborating with the Community: How can we use our community and their resources for more than donation requests? What can we do together that will make our community as a whole better?

We don’t always think of how something looks from another’s perspective. My first two requests are part of that reminder that we a small piece of a larger puzzle. How do the pieces fit together? The last is important to building future parent partners and leaders. Not only will this current team not always be here – but change, fresh faces and new ideas are a good thing.

As a parent, what do you want to see at your school or learn? As a PTO, how do you plan top this year?

image credit: http://www.sxc.hu


Appreciating Those Making a Difference

THANKS

 

This was a week of thanking all those who make a difference in our children’s lives. This week we all took time to thank the wonderful teachers and educators, this weekend we thank all the wonderful moms out there, and just around the corner we will be thanking the dads. Our children are surrounded by so many people who care and want the absolute best for their physical, emotional, social, and intellectual well being.

As a child, I don’t know that I fully understood how blessed I was to have teachers that were there for us not only in the classroom teaching us the skills we needed to pursue our dreams – but also there for us outside the class as a coach, friend or cheerleader. As an adult looking back, I am so greatly appreciative of all that my teachers provided me. As a parent I have been so lucky to connect with some of the most amazing educators both at my children’s schools and those I’ve learned from on Twitter. These people don’t stop learning when they receive their degree or caring when their day ends at 3:35pm. They are tirelessly giving their time and hearts to make sure our children get the best education possible, and keeping them safe when not in our care.

As a mom, I can honestly say that until you become a parent, you have no idea what it is like. I don’t care how much time you spend with children; nothing compares to the amount of time, care and heart it takes to raise a child of your own….and NOTHING is more gratifying. Every decision you make affects their lives. The toughest part? There is no class or book on the steps to being a “good” parent. You can read and listen to all the advice in the world, but in the end it comes down to you making a decision based on what you feel is best for your child/family. There are many “live and learn” moments.

I feel so lucky to say that I am surrounded by more parents and educators than I can count that not only care about their child or class, but also all the other children and schools out there. They all serve in different ways. The neighbors who pick up your child from the bus stop when you’re running late; the parents volunteering in school to provide the students with a day of fun; the parents and teachers sharing and learning from each other online and in person to find better ways support and educate our children; the dad who coaches long after his children have grown because he loves sharing his passion for the game; the teacher who lends an ear when a student has no one else to turn to; the advocates pushing to improve education.

This week I am so grateful for not only my mother & teachers – but for all the people making a difference in children’s lives every day. You all are what inspire the rest of us to do more and be the best we can be. THANK YOU!


SheilaSpeaking

A space for thinking, reflecting and sharing about education -- and the odd other thing...

Ingvi Hrannar

Icelandic educator, iPad 1:1 classroom, speaker & entrepreneur.

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013

Sharing our inquiries - March 23-30

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